Byline: Kelly Patricia O'Meara, INSIGHT
Receiving a subpoena in Washington is becoming as common as "credible but nonspecific" terrorist threats, and few are more likely to be issuing them than the bipartisan 10-member commission set up by Congress to investigate the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The problem for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission) is that Nov. 27 marks its first anniversary and time is running out before the May deadline for filing its report. The 9/11 Commission was allotted 18 months and $14 million to investigate the circumstances that produced the Sept. 11 attacks, but commission insiders say the federal agencies with the most information haven't been cooperating.
The commission is tasked with "providing an authoritative account of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and [making] recommendations as to how to prevent such attacks in the future." More specifically, the commission is mandated to investigate "facts and circumstances relating to the terrorist attacks," including those relating to intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, diplomacy, immigration, nonimmigrant visas and border control, the flow of assets to terrorist organizations, commercial aviation, the role of congressional oversight and resource allocation and other areas determined relevant by the commission.
A Pentagon release says Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has "directed that the Department [of Defense] be responsive to help ensure the commission can meet its deadlines" that is, cooperate and do so in a timely fashion.
But across the Potomac River from the Pentagon the White House had been refusing to turn over highly classified presidential daily briefings (PDBs) seen only by the president specifically an Aug. 6 briefing President George W. received from CIA Director George Tenet titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike the United States." Finally, in a last-minute compromise reached by the White House and the 9/11 commissioners, the White House has agreed to provide "restricted access" to years of PDBs. In line with what many family members of the victims believe to be the White House's already-excessive intrusions into the commission's mission, the agreement will allow a few of the commissioners to review portions of the daily briefings. They will only be allowed to take notes, which then must be vetted by the White House before being shared with the remaining commissioners or made part of the commission's report. But the content of the PDBs will continue to be redacted.
Like the secretary of defense, the White House has been reassuring, saying it "believed it was being fully cooperative with the commission" and that "it hoped to meet all of the panel's demands for documents."
Kristen Breitweiser, who on Sept. 11 lost her husband Ronald in the collapse of the second World Trade Center tower and was instrumental in getting Congress to set up the 9/11 Commission, tells Insight that the vagueness of the official statements are upsetting. "I wrote a letter to the New York Times last week because I didn't like the language of the White House spokeswoman. She said, 'We think we're cooperating.' There is a difference between thinking and knowing, and I think at this point in the game they can't 'think' they're cooperating, they have to 'know' they're cooperating. It was upsetting, and reminiscent of [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice's comment a few days after the attack when she said that the White House 'didn't think they [terrorists] could use planes as missiles.'"
Breitweiser is especially concerned about the many press reports, supported by information gleaned from previous investigations of the events of Sept. 11, that cite nearly a dozen countries as having passed information on to Washington about an impending attack on the United States [see time line at the bottom of pp. …